Thirteen workers die as safety standards are ignored in race to build Olympic sites

Immigrant workers racing against the clock to build Greece's Olympic dream in Athens have been dying in shockingly large numbers in industrial accidents, according to a confidential report obtained by
The Independent.

Immigrant workers racing against the clock to build Greece's Olympic dream in Athens have been dying in shockingly large numbers in industrial accidents, according to a confidential report obtained by The Independent.

Years of chronic delays and infighting have been matched by an indifference to safety standards, creating an explosive mix that has cost the lives of at least 13 workers while scores more have been seriously injured, the report claims.

"All of these accidents were avoidable. What's happened is criminal in the truest sense of the word and it's been done in the name of profit," said Giorgos Philiousis, president of the construction workers' union at the Athens 2004 Olympic Village.

The list of dead workers - compiled by union investigators and Greek opposition parties - has met with a "conspiracy of silence" in the Greek media, say local journalists. Officials at the Greek building inspectorate (Kepek) refused to confirm or deny the names and nationalities of 13 men, killed in construction accidents from December 2001 to December 2003.

During the same period in the run-up to the last Olympics in Sydney only one death was recorded. The excessive number of reported casualties in Greece led Australian union officials to lodge an official complaint with the Greek government last year.

According to Mr Philiousis, the reasons for the death toll are three-fold. Contractors are pocketing the health and safety budgets; cheap, unskilled immigrant labourers are being given high-risk heavy machinery to operate; and workers are being forced into excessive overtime to earn early delivery bonuses for their bosses.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a construction site foreman in charge of one major Olympic project confirmed union claims that contractors were siphoning off money legally set aside for health and safety spending. "Three per cent of all Olympic construction budgets are earmarked for on-site health and safety. In Greece this just hasn't happened," he said.

Ever since a breakdown in relations between Greek organisers of the games and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2000 led to threats of the Olympiad being moved elsewhere, the focus has been on delays in preparation. Denis Oswald, the IOC's Athens overseer, has enthusiastically passed on organisers' assurances that lost time would be made up by working "round-the-clock" on delayed projects.

For the multinational workforce, including Pakistanis, Albanians and Syrians, the reality has been less encouraging. The majority of workers live in appalling conditions in run-down neighbourhoods and commute to work by bus for up to three hours a day. One overcrowded bus collapsed last year. "There must have been more than 200 of us crammed inside and it broke in half," said Dyonisis Kekai, a worker from Albania.

What awaited them when they arrived at the supposedly international-standard Olympic sites was even worse.

This August a two-week stay at the Olympic Village will be the high point of many athletes' lives. It is described on the Athens 2004 official site as "a safe environment that is convenient, stress-free, friendly and respectful of multiculturalism ... where residents can enjoy the Greek spirit of hospitality." For the workers who built it, it will be remembered as a dangerous battleground where lives were lost in pursuit of profit. The only unionised Olympic construction site, poor conditions and a spate of serious accidents led to industrial stoppages early 2002 and a breakdown in relations with contractors. Mr Philiousis claims the union's on-site office was demolished by bulldozers following strike action in 2002.

Union leaders blame the death toll on government incentives to individual contractors who stood to earn up to £15,000 per day in early-delivery bonuses. Nine of the 12 construction areas at the Village were delivered in advance. "As the time got pressured with contractors chasing bonuses and without serious health and safety measures the number of accidents increased," said Mr Philiousis.

The death in June 2002 of 32-year-old Manea Marinel, 32, from Romania, is an example of the avoidable tragedies that ensued. Unhitching a load from an industrial crane he slipped and was crushed to death. No regulation footwear was given to workers and Mr Marinel was wearing flip-flops.

Union leaders are concerned that contractors may have concealed fatal accidents at any one of the more than 35 non-union Olympic sites. "These are just the deaths that we know about, there may be many more," said Osman Feim, a union official.

But the deaths are only the tip of the iceberg, with upwards of 80 serious injuries for each death. In many cases contractors have pressured non-Greek speakers into signing legal waivers in return for tiny sums of money. Not one compensation claim from one of the construction sites has gone the distance in a Greek court, lawyers said.

Ibrahim Almohamed, 31, lies motionless in a cramped room in a dilapidated Athens clinic. Paralysed from the neck down, he will be bed-ridden for the rest of his life. He is the victim of the dark side of the Olympic dream. After handing over his life savings to make the journey from Syria, through Turkey and onto Greece, he found work at the construction site for Olympic village in northern Athens two years ago.

But the dream of a steady job and a work permit came to an end when he slipped and fell from scaffolding while operating a high-pressure hose at the Olympic Village. According to eye witnesses his back ruptured "like a watermelon" upon hitting the concrete three storeys down.

To date Mr Almhomad has received a paltry €7,000 (£4,600) from contractors Aktor, one of Greece's largest construction groups: his medical expenses already total in excess of €30,000. He says he was forced to sign legal papers in order to get the €7,000. "I didn't know what I was signing as I don't read Greek but they said I should sign in order to get the money," he said.

Fact file: Other building site disasters

Brooklyn Bridge

139 people, including Irish and Italian immigrants, died while building the Brooklyn suspension bridge, left, between 1865 and 1883. The bridge's designer, John Roebling, died from complications after his foot was crushed on a pier by a ferry as he scouted for the site. Most of the deaths occurred in the airtight cylinders that were used to clear the riverbed of silt and set the foundations. The cylinders were often raised too quickly, resulting in bends because of the change in pressure. Roebling's son Washington, who had taken over construction on his father's death, was paralysed in one such incident.

Channel tunnel

Ten workers died during the construction of the Channel tunnel between 1987 and 1993, most of them in the first few months during the boring of the tunnel. The Channel tunnel was a joint venture between British and French construction firms. The vast majority of the work was carried out by the British, and eight out of the 10 dead were British workers.

M5 motorway

In September 1999 four workers fell 80ft to their deaths while working on the Avonmouth bridge on the M5 motorway near Bristol. The workers were carrying out repair work from a gantry when strong winds blew it off its rails. It was reported that the brakes holding the gantry were insufficient for its weight. A weather station that was meant to ensure workers did not work in high winds was not working that day. Yarm Road Ltd, which was responsible for the project, was fined £500,000 after pleading guilty to health and safety offences. It also agreed a compensation package of £1.3m with the families of the dead men.

National Stadium, Wembley Park

One worker has died and three others have been seriously injured during the construction of the National Stadium project at Wembley Park. The worker died when scaffolding collapsed on top of him and a colleague, who was seriously injured. In a separate incident a safety cage, carrying two workers, fell 148ft to the ground.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor